polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Urban Intersections: Flagler Street and Miami Av: Miami Fl, USA.

by Hector Fernando Burga

This intersection marks the gateway of a physical trajectory that defines South Florida’s perilous ecological balance: Miami’s booming metropolis vs. the Everglades’ pristine natural environment. It also represents the zero coordinates of Miami’s urban grid. Its view frames Flagler Avenue, Miami’s emblematic “main street”. From this point, a cyclist can traverse the whole peninsula. She would first ride by Little Havana through Calle Ocho, eventually reach Miami’s urban growth boundary, penetrate Everglades National Park through Alligator Alley and culminate her ride in the city of Naples and the placid waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Taken during the Bike Miami Day’s event, this photograph captures a key moment in an emergent sustainable consciousness sweeping Miami. Planners and politicians have taken aggressive steps to brand the city as a sustainable city. Fomenting bike culture has come to the forefront in the implementation of this top-down planning agenda. Organized mass events such as Bike Miami Days stand in contrast to bottom-up events like Critical Mass. In this way, planners and politicians aim to provide a social space which complements the implementation of new urban infrastructures.

Credits: Image of Flagler and Miami Ave. from Hector Fernando Burga.

Urban Intersections: Hagonoy, Philippines

by Anna Fogel

In September, 2009, Manila and the surrounding region was hit by a number of serious tsunamis and hurricanes. Hagonoy is a few hours drive south of Manila and consists of a number of small fishing villages. The streets often overflow because of the nearby coastline and the many fishing farms throughout the villages, but during the summer of 2009, they experienced severe flooding. This intersection was near the City Hall in Hagonoy.

Credits: Photos by Anna Fogel.

Urban Intersections: San Pablo Ave. with Filbert St. and 32nd St. in Oakland

by Ivan Valin

The intersection appears at the end of the video above.

San Pablo Avenue runs a straight course from Oakland in the south, to San Pablo in the north. If there is one street along which one can find the breadth of experiences and cultures of the East Bay, this would be it. Although it has had much more glamorous histories, the section of the street in Oakland is largely home to prostitutes, addicts, and their dealers. Garages and liquor stores are sprinkled between vacant lots and abandoned buildings. This particular intersection (more of a triangle, few streets actually cross San Pablo cleanly) has always interested me as a kind of bustling hub of illicit activity. Generous bus stop seating and low planters offer plenty of space to sprawl out for the day, so many do. I was clearly in someone else’s public space. But at the same time, some of the people I spoke with there conveyed a sense of raw vulnerability--that this public space was not wholly theirs either.

Credits: Photos and video by Ivan Valin.

Urban Intersections: Calle de la Acequia and Callejon de San Francisco, Santa Marta, Colombia

by Natalia Echeverri

Santa Marta is the oldest city in South America, founded in 1525 by Spanish conquistador Rodrigo de Bastidas. This intersection is part of the Old City, which is currently undergoing restoration. The narrow streets were obviously not made for the automobile. Now some of them, like the Callejon de San Francisco, are being converted to pedestrian use. The white house on the background was where my grandmother grew up.

Callejon de San Francisco.

Credits: Photos of Santa Maarta by Natalia Echeverri.

Urban Intersections: Emniyet Cd. and Ismet Inönü Cd., Istanbul, Turkey

by Alex Schafran

It is fascinating how two views from the same point can capture such different cities. Both are take from a busy intersection near the 4.Levent metro station in Istanbul, just off of Büyükdere Blvd., which has become the major center of modern skyscrapers and finance capital in this rapidly growing metropolis. One of the many reasons this city fascinates so many urbanists may be this tendency for stark juxtaposition, for the ability to see older and newer forms of the modern city living on top of each other.

Credits: Photos by Alex Schafran.

Urban Intersections: Stewart Avenue and Williams Street in Ithaca

by Peter Sigrist

This is a row of houses overlooking the intersection of Stewart Avenue and Williams Street in Ithaca, New York. I love the sunlight they get in the evenings, also the view over the hill into town, the nearby gorge, and the Carriage House Cafe just around the corner. This is one of my favorite places.

Credits: Photo by Peter Sigrist.

Urban Intersections: Oxford St. and Regent St., London

by Andrew Wade

This intersection lies in the heart of the City of Westminster, in London’s West End. It is a major juncture between Oxford Street, home to the major department stores, and Regent Street, which was carved through the city fabric in the early 19th century by John Nash. In 2009 a diagonal pedestrian crossing was introduced to relieve the growing congestion in the area, giving the UK a decidedly less delirious version of Tokyo's Shibuya Crossing. The impression in the space is one of frantic consumerism and disorientation.

Credits: Photos by Andrew Wade.

Urban Intersections: 18th St. and Paulina St., Chicago

by Vivien Park

The mixed imagery in this intersection, to me, captures the transitional state of Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood. Formerly Czech, now predominantly Mexican, recent years have seen an increasing amount of artists moving in to establish studios and galleries. The experimental and do-it-yourself spirit here are strongly felt and appreciated by many who seek an alternative from the commercial art district located about a mile away east on Halsted Street.

Credits: Photo by Vivien Park.

Urban Intersections: Plaça de la Reina, Palma de Mallorca, Spain

by Melissa García Lamarca

Plaça de la Reina, Palma de Mallorca, Spain

This roundabout, known as the Queen's Plaza, is a key intersection connecting the avenue leading to the oceanfront to the downtown historic core of the city. The former is the Avinguda d’Antoni Maura, united by la Plaça de la Reina to the Paseo de Born (image below, day and night, looking towards the Plaça de la Reina), one of many pedestrian promenades in Palma. The Plaça also takes one east (left in the above photo), up towards the famous 13th century La Seu cathedral.

Paseo de Born, pedestrian street moving directly north from the Plaça de la Reina

This area is the heart of the city, with classy and largely expensive shops leading north up the Paseo de Born towards the Avinguda Jaume III - a street that did not exist 30 years ago but today could be caracterised as one of the many upscale shopping meccas of the city, so dependent, like the rest of the city and the island, on the millions of tourists that come through each year.

Credits: Photos by Melissa García Lamarca.

Urban Intersections: Clement St. and 7th Ave., San Francisco

by Katia Savchuk

This intersection is typical of San Francisco’s Richmond district, the foggy, immigrant-heavy neighborhood I grew up in. Clement St. is San Francisco’s unofficial second Chinatown, with bustling and inexpensive markets, restaurants and house-ware shops. Asian and Russian immigrants, whose delis pepper the next street over, replaced the Irish-Americans that dominated the district before World War II; one of the neighborhood’s many Irish pubs is in the back of the top photo. Gentrification has begun to creep up Clement St. a few blocks to the east, but hasn’t reached 7th Ave. — close to some of the city’s best independent bookstores, cafes and bakeries. “The Avenues” are sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the city's two largest green spaces, Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, but feel far away for many San Franciscans. The denizens of this intersection give the sense that they know where they’re going and can walk home.

Credits: Photos by Katia Savchuk.

Urban Intersections: A Group Post

by Katia Savchuk

Inspired by Camilo Jose Vergara’s recent photo essay on a Harlem intersection in Slate, the Polis team decided to try our hand(s) at urban photo-documentation. In our first group post, we present a collage of street corners and crossings from our urban environments across the globe. This is where our cities intersect.

Credits: Photo of 125th and Lexington by Camilo Jose Vergara from Slate.

Urbanism in the Information Age 2.0: The CLOUD

by Andrew Wade

This post continues to explore the possibilities of digital technologies in shaping our cities by investigating a proposal for the London 2012 Olympics: The CLOUD. The Olympic Games provide one of very few opportunities for the real-world implementation of futuristic and highly creative proposals such as this. The proposal imagines the potential of digital technologies in its cross-disciplinary and global design methods, its funding, and its communication of information.

The CLOUD is an observation deck proposal for the 2012 games that draws on the expertise of prominent professionals and advisors from across the globe, such as Google, Arup, the MIT SENSEable City Lab, and Umberto Eco. The networked nature of such a collaboration in design and information exchange is something that builds upon the unique digital communications resources available in the 21st century. This project welcomes the idea of drawing on knowledge capital on a global scale for implementation in a place-specific project.

The funding of the CLOUD is to come from donations from anyone in the world, allowing a democratic participation in supporting the project, which will be scaled appropriately based on the achieved funding levels. In this way both the size of the final built structure and the amount of information broadcast on the surface of the bubbles depends upon the collective financial support received.

While the marketing behind this project, including its integrated use of digital processes and technologies, attempts to sell a seductive idea, it opens up a debate on the potential of the information age in urban projects. Could this network be utilised by less glamorous pursuits such as effectively scaling up housing solutions for the poor? If humanity came together in such a democratic and participatory way, facilitated by the technologies and approach of the CLOUD project, but focused on alternate problems, what solutions might we devise?

Credits: Images of the CLOUD project from online gallery.

Imagining the Socialist City

by Peter Sigrist

Design for Children's Games by Vladimir Stenberg, 1928.

This is the third post in a series of brief visual studies on the history of public parks in Moscow. It addresses the period following the October Revolution, in 1917, to the early 1930s.

Wood engraving from the Revolutionary Years series by Vladimir Favorsky.

After the October Revolution, Russia was still embroiled in international and domestic conflict. Despite prompt withdrawal from World War I, insurrections among the former ruling class (White Army), peasants (Green movements), anarchists (Black movements), and other factions threatened the survival of the Bolshevik state. Lack of stability and resources made it nearly impossible to proceed with new urban development. However, the revolution ushered in a rush of ideas on city planning in the new socialist era. The government sought to reinvent society in accordance with Marxist principles, including communal ownership of resources, universal education, income and gender equality, an end to global imperialism, and the unification of town and country.

Panels of rural and urban laborers by N. A. Tyrsa, 1918.

The ideas that emerged were rooted in different strands of social organization and utopian thinking from Russia and abroad. On the domestic front there were the traditional village communes, worker soviets, and longstanding traditions of nihilism, anarchism, and communism. in addition to Marx and Engels, international influences such as the Paris Commune and the Mexican Revolution inspired visions of a new social order. In city planning, Ebenezer Howard's garden cities (inspired in part by the Russian communist-anarchist Peter Kropotkin) played an important role. Popular science-fiction of the time uncannily resembled many of the city planning ideas circulating among politicians and designers. Writers invented elaborate visions of communal living, global unification, removal of gender hierarchies, new technologies, and even the reforestation of cities (see Revolutionary Dreams, by Richard Stites, for an interesting introduction to these writings in relation to city planning).

Calendar celebrating the unification of town and country, by Mizyakin, 1923.

Marc Chagall teaching war orphans in 1918.

The revolutionary government called upon artists and designers to help establish their legitimacy, sponsoring agitprop monuments, parades, murals, plays, and other creative works to commemorate and communicate their values to the masses. This work tended to be highly experimental, inspired by the European avant-garde as well as pride in Russian folk traditions. While many artists and designers aspired towards functional solutions to social problems, their work was most often refreshingly creative but impractical.

Spatial Force Construction by Lyubov Popova, 1921.

Agitprop train, 1919 (Literary-instructor train of the October Revolution).

Art students and teachers working on parade floats at the VKhUTEIN workshops in Gorky Park.

Set design by Georgii and Vladimir Stenberg, 1925.

El Lissitzky working on a model for the theater.

Fantasy No. 20 by Iakov Chernikhov.

VKhUTEMAS (the Higher Art and Technical Studios -- or VKhUTEIN when it became an institute) was established by government decree in 1920. Its purpose was to prepare students to apply creative skills toward the improvement of society, becoming "artist-constructors." It employed many of the most talented artists and designers in the country, and became world famous for innovative work and ideas.

Exhibition of student work at VKhUTEMAS in the early 1920s.

Kinetic Construction by Naum Gabo. Spatial Construction/Spatial Object by Aleksandr Rodchenko. Monument to the Third International by Vladimir Tatlin.

Architects took part in competitions to design monuments, buildings, and cities based on socialist ideals. Their submissions show an exaltation of new technology, communal living, public health, green space, and an egalitarian society. Famous designers from around the world (including Hannes Meyer, Ernst May, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier) visited or worked in Moscow during the 1920s and 1930s. They were drawn to Russia for the competitions, exhibitions, ideas, and often in support of the revolutionary cause.

Model for the Lenin Institute by Ivan Leonidov, 1927-1928.

Sketch for a skyscraper near Nikitskii Gates by El Lissitzky, 1925.

Photomontage for the skyscraper near Nikitskii Gates (see above).

Interior of a Worker's Club by Aleksandr Rodchenko, 1925.

Plan for an international stadium by El Lissitzky.

Ideas for the socialist city are often described in terms of urbanist and disurbanist orientation. Urbanist plans are characterized by relatively dense Le Corbusian high-rise buildings set within seas of green space. Disurbanist plans are known for prefabricated houses dispersed along major roadways that traverse the entire country, calling to mind Arturo Soria y Mata's Linear City and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City. The competition for a Green City outside Moscow provided an opportunity to further develop these plans. Although the city wasn't built, the entries showcased bold ideas for public green space circulating at the time.

Russian translation of Le Corbusier's Urbanisme.

Nikolai Milyutin's plan for a Linear City. Residential zones (А) and industrial zones (Б) share a green band. Railroad tracks run along the industrial zone.

Sergei Shestakov's Plan for Greater Moscow, 1925. 1) Central region, 2) Industry, 3) Residential areas with green wedges in between. The city is surrounded by a ring of greenery and railroad tracks.

Skiers (Amid Trees) by Sergei Luchishkin, 1926.

The nationalization of land in 1917 paved the way for the establishment of Parks of Culture and Rest on former estates of the aristocracy. Gorky Park was first, established in 1928. Landscape design is notably absent in many of the experimental work of this era. Perhaps it was considered an aristocratic pursuit, or simply not as exciting as modern technology, or maybe I just haven't discovered it yet. Rooftop gardens and greenery surrounding tall apartment blocks were common in science fiction and plans for the socialist city. Buildings were linked by high-speed transportation, and greenery was used to buffer industrial zones. Thus while technology and industry seem to be the primary concerns of the day, ideas of safeguarding public health with greenery became enduring elements of Soviet planning.

Transforming Moscow into a Model Socialist City of the State Proletariat by Aleksandr Dejneka, 1931.

After absorbing a small portion of the information about this period, I'm struck most by the amazing creativity, often didactic, patronizing, or insensitive stance of designers towards the people who would interact with new designs (for some reason the chairs in Rodchenko's Worker's Club come to mind), and the great potential in this kind of creative experimentation. It will take me some time to really take this in and hopefully find more information on the establishment of parks during this era. But for now I'll post this and hope that others might have some leads.

Credits: Image of Stenberg's design for Children's Games scanned from Art Into Life: Russian Constructivism, 1914-1932 by Richard Andrews and Milena Kalinovska. Image of Revolutionary Years wood engraving scanned from Soviet Art 1920s-1930s by Vlademir Leniashin. Image of rural and urban laborers from Mass Propaganda Art, 1917-1932 by V. A. Tolstovo. Image of 1923 calendar scanned from Soviet Commercial Design of the Twenties by Ed Mikhail Anikst. Photo of Marc Chagall scanned from New Worlds: Russian Art and Society, 1900-1937 by David Elliott. Image of painting by Lyubov Popova scanned from Art Into Life. Photo of the agitprop train scanned from Paris-Moscou, 1900-1930 by the Centre Georges Pompidou. Photo of float makers in Gorky Park scanned from Street Art of the Revolution edited by Vladimir Tolstoy, Irina Bibikova, and Catherine Cooke. Image of set design for Kykirol and photo of El Lissitzky scanned from Art Into Life. Image of Fantasy No. 20 scanned from Russian Constructivism & Iakov Chernikhov edited by Catherine Cooke. Photo of the exhibition at VKhUTEMAS scanned from New Worlds. Photos of Gabo's Kinetic Construction, Rodchenko's Spatial Construction/Spatial Object and Tatlin's Monument to the Third International scanned from Russian Constructivism by Christina Lodder. Images of Leonidov's Lenin Institute, El Lissitzky's skyscraper, Rodchenko's Worker's Club, and El Lissitzky's international stadium scanned from Art Into Life. Photo of the Russian translation of Le Corbusier's Urbanisme scanned from Le Corbusier and the Mystique of the USSR: Theories and Projects for Moscow, 1928-1936 by Jean-Louis Cohen. Plans of the Linear City and Greater Moscow scanned from A History of Landscape Design by Sergey Ojegov. Image of Skiers (Amid Trees) scanned from Soviet Art, 1920s-1930s by Vlademir Leniashin. Image of Dejneka's Transforming Moscow poster scanned from Russia & URSS: Arte, Letteratura, Teatro, 1905-1940 by Giuseppe Marcenaro e Piero Boragina.

Cars vs. Quality of Life in Quito

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Quito, capital of Ecuador, is a city dominated by cars. Walking is not considered a means of transport, but an unavoidable problem between the car and the building you’re coming from or heading to. Cycling is simply too dangerous. Public transport is good only through the North-South trolleybus corridors, and it is a total mess if you’re moving along East-West directions. Moreover, as in most cities in the American continent, there is a vicious mix of real insecurity and an exaggerated collective paranoia about it, which prevents many from walking simply to get bread or the newspaper. In this situation, cars are seen by the great majority as THE means to moving in the city, and any other means is simply the result of not having a car. This product of “modernity” and “prosperity” is not just environmentally unsustainable, but it also undermines the quality of life of most citizens.

This ill situation might seem impossible to improve, however, the city is showing some indicators about positive change in the future. And they are quite amazing. Perhaps the most impressive one is the “Ciclopaseo”. It all started in 2003, when a local NGO (Biciacción), with the support from other international NGOs, organized a seminar-workshop on city cycling. This event convinced the city Mayor to close the main city artery (avenida Amazonas) to traffic on the following Sunday to be used only by bicycles. It started being once in a while for a few Km. Today it takes place every single Sunday on 30 Km, crossing the whole city from North to South, and with 40000 cyclists simultaneously. It really is a beautiful scene after having to swallow heavy fumes, being constantly intimidated as a pedestrian and standing so much noise during every previous 6 weekdays.

Credits: Image of a typical Sunday on Av. Amazonas in Quito from laciudadviva.org.

Integrated Urban Rehabilitation in Camp Redó

by Melissa García Lamarca

Mention Palma de Mallorca to most, and reactions tend to be complimentary. Located on a lovely island in the Mediterranean, about 200 km off the eastern coast of Spain, southeast of Barcelona and due east of Valencia, Mallorca attracts over 7 million tourists per year due to its average 300 out of 360 days of sun and excellent beaches, among other attractions. Almost half the island’s population of 800,000 lives in Palma, a tranquil city founded by the Romans in 123 BC with a picturesque historic core containing one of the most famous Gothic buildings in Europe, the La Seu cathedral.

Yet ask people living in Palma about an area in the city called Corea, a group of 26 buildings along Calle General Riera, and expressions will turn in aversion: this is a heavily labeled place no one visits willingly, known for its delinquency, drug use and social conflict among diverse ethnic groups amidst dilapidated buildings and streets. Even most living next door to Corea, in the wider neighbourhood called Camp Redó, openly express that although they live a few blocks away they never, ever come near this area, even during the day.

Due to its poor socioeconomic context and degraded urban fabric it has been highlighted as a priority area for rehabilitation, and a 4-year initiative began in early 2009 through an organisation called Consorci RIBA, where RIBA stands for integrated neighbourhood rehabilitation. The Consorci is a public entity, from Palma’s City Council and the Government of the Balearic Islands, in charge of coordinating an integrated rehabilitation of the most degraded areas of Palma, with multiple millions of euros in funding for the Camp Redó rehabilitation coming from these sources plus the European Regional Development Fund. Integrated rehabilitation in this context means that actions are not reduced to urban design interventions, but strive to simultaneously address economic, environmental and social spheres.

I began to learn about the project through activities in the latter sphere of intervention, as an architect friend working on the urban design component of the initiative invited me to a participatory walk with residents through the Camp Redó neighbourhood, organised by social workers in the social integration and equality of opportunity programme – the social branch of Consorci RIBA with 16 employees. I was impressed with the concept and the content of the walk, which involved stopping at five key areas in the neighbourhood, from the clean, main shopping street with broad sidewalks and bike lanes to the dirty, unkempt streets in the priority zone of Corea, and asking residents participating in the walk their perceptions of these areas, their feeling being in that particular urban space. This activity made up the last of dozens upon dozens of events over the year that engaged the residents of Camp Redó in a time-use study, the first of its kind in an urban project Mallorca, to understand how they distribute their activities during the day, from the domestic environment, their mobility, use of services as well as their perception of spaces in the area. The quantitative and qualitative information gathered during over the year will be used to recommend improvements the urban intervention in Camp Redó, the concept being to marry the urban with the social findings.

While the concept of urban renewal, regeneration or rehabilitation, no matter how ‘inclusive’ it claims to be, is often code for the displacement of marginalised communities that inhabit the area and essentially gentrification, the Consorci RIBA urban intervention in Corea seeks to avoid this through various measures. First, owners (70%) of the flats in the 26 buildings in Corea can decide between selling their flat, obtaining an equal exchange of theirs for another flat in Palma or living two years in a ‘bridge flat’ as work is underway to rehabilitate the area. Those tenants with legal rental contracts will be provided alternative accommodation as the rehabilitation begins. There are many activities underway with residents through the economic development and work support programme and social integration and equality of opportunity programme, the latter including initiatives to create and strengthen neighbourhood committees, structures that did not exist to date, activities around coexistence, conflict resolution and neighbour mediation, and specific projects working with women and youth, who tend to be more affected by the challenges facing the neighbourhood.

My main question when having coffee with several social workers involved in the initiative was how the marginalised residents of Corea were engaged in process of redesigning their living space – something I consider to be an important component when taking an integrated approach to redevelopment. Engagement in this context was a meeting of the Consorci with various neighbourhood associations to get input on what was needed in the area, and the resulting information then given to the architects who drafted the proposed urban rehabilitation plans. The architect and plan selected and approved by City Council and the Government can be tweaked, but overall will look the same. This makes me ask how to appropriately balance process and product in urban rehabilitation, when there is a demand for the product up front, before meeting with residents and fully understanding their needs, but when truly integrating urban design with economic, social and ecological facets is fully dependent on process.

Learning more about the social component of the Consorci’s work in Camp Redó, however, gives me some hope for a positive urban regeneration process, as it was clear to me that the social workers are truly dedicated and committed to working with the diverse communities in Corea and surrounding areas to improve the lives and reduce inequities so blatantly present in this urban environment. The coming years shall tell how or if this integrated initiative evolves, as political realities unfold: while the urban design and rehabilitation work must be complete in 2013 due to EU funding deadlines, the government elections in 2011 might change or even eliminate the social and economic offices driving these components of the initiative. This, alongside other factors, will illustrate whether the area receives a superficial face-lift with deeper social and economic problems remaining, or whether a more integrated approach is taken.

Credits: Images of Corea from Programa de Desenvolupament Econòmic i Suport a l'Ocupació, Pla de Rehabilitació Integral Camp Redó. Map illustrating location of Camp Redó in Palma adapted from Projecte Urban Camp Redó pamphlet. Aerial image of Camp Redó from Projecte Urban Camp Redó pamphlet. Image illustrating Camp Redó urban intervention from Projecte Urban Camp Redó pamphlet. Image illustrating details of Corea urban intervention. Image of graffiti from Programa de Desenvolupament Econòmic i Suport a l'Ocupació, Pla de Rehabilitació Integral Camp Redó.